Seitei Iai last evening, and we concentrated on the left hand and the centerline. Also on keeping those shoulders loose, elbows tucked in, that sort of thing but mostly keep that left hand in front of your bellybutton.
We went from numbers 5 to 10. Kesa giri was our starting point in the discussion, as the left hand seems a bit lost on this kata. We draw and cut upward, turning the sword over our right shoulder, gripping it with the left hand and cutting diagonally downward. How can this involve the left hand on the centerline of the body? By definition it would be crossing the line if the cut is diagonal right?
We grip the hilt one fist to the right and forward of the right shoulder, our body straight toward the opponent. No chance of the hand on the centerline, but, put the sword in this position and then lower it to hasso. How much change is that? Not a lot, and our left hand is on our centerline at hasso right?
Put your arms up again, now cut slowly, where is our left hand as we start cutting into our opponent? It’s on the centerline, where we squeeze our hands to drive the tip into the target. Now, as the tip of the sword moves down the kesa line, diagonally, the left hand simply runs down the centerline. The cut finishes with the tip of the sword in front of the left hip, down a bit, and the left thumb in front of your centerline.
That’s what we’re talking about.
Next kata is Morote Zuki, a one handed cut from the draw, again right hand, again a bit of an angle. The left hand? It’s involved, always, the left hand pulls the saya back into the left hip as the left hip is driven forward to provide power for the cut. As you move the left foot up to the right, return the mouth of the scabbard to your center and there’s your hilt, grip, thrust. Left hand on centerline.
Now you have to turn. Over 30 years I’ve seen more ways to turn around than you could possibly imagine. The best of the lot is pretty simple. Keep your left hand on your centerline as you turn. It moves up and down but never drifts off that line. If your bellybutton is facing 90 degrees to your original line, you left hand is there, somewhere on the vertical line in front of your bellybutton.
This is the sword, the power happens when the left hand is on the centerline. This is Aikido too, which is sword without a sword. Keep your hands in front of your hips. If you’re doing things one handed, the power comes off that side hip, if you’ve got two hands on something (a sword, an arm,) your left hand is in front of your bellybutton.
So neat, so easy to remember.
Turn with the left hand moving up and down the centerline and you will turn with seme, the instant you square up to the opponent behind, you are ready to cut.
Now, don’t get too fascinated by that left hand forward of your face, yes you went up the line and finished in front of yourself, just start the tip moving up and over but leave the left hand where it is as you step forward. You move under the sword and then cut. Don’t pull the sword back over your head, you move your body instead.
Work on it, it’s not hard if I could figure it out.
Sanpogiri is an example of cutting without being square to your opponent. That doesn’t mean your left hand is flopping around. Drive toward that first opponent with your left foot, don’t leave it to drag like a boat anchor, don’t cut behind your butt, use your left hip and your left hand. As you turn toward the second opponent don’t do “banzai”, let your hips move to your left hand as you turn (return the mouth of the scabbard to your center) and then lift your left hand up your centerline as you turn to face number two. Cut the instant you are square, make sure you meet the hilt before it moves in front of your face so you don’t pull the sword back to start your cut from over your head. Why? Because you aren’t moving toward the opponent on this cut so you can’t move under the hilt.
Turn to the third opponent while keeping the left hand (hilt) on your centerline. When you are square to him your left hand is forward of your face and this, we have been told, is OK. You can cut from here, but why not drive yourself forward just a bit more and step under your left hand so you cut from that left hand directly above your face?
Ganmen Ate, the strike to the face with the pommel of your sword is done with the left hand driving directly from the left hip. The right hand is just there to keep it from deflecting as you hit. Now draw as you turn around. Can you guess how? Yes keep the left hand on your centerline as you turn your hips, you will be pulling the scabbard off the sword and it will be out as you finish the turn, allowing you to thrust without pause. On the thrust the right hand moves from the right hip and the left hand jams into the left hip which is driving the thrust. Don’t poke from the right hip and leave a big gaping hole on your left side for all your energy to fall into.
As you turn once more your hip picks up your left hand which means your left hand moves up the centerline as you’ve seen several times now.
Soete Zuki, involve your left hand (at your left hip with the saya) in the initial cut or you will not cut. Turn your hips to pull the sword directly back to your right hip and your left hand moves onto the back of the blade in front of your centerline. Just because your body is angled doesn’t mean your left hand wanders around. When you thrust you do so by moving your right hand from your right hip to your centerline. Is this an exception to our rule? Not really, by keeping your hips at an angle you are keeping the sword entirely on the attack line (sometimes called the centerline, if we are square to the opponent it’s the same thing) so that you can thrust directly down this line. Thrusting at an angle to the attack line, that is, not down the axis of the sword, makes for a thrust that twists to the side as it hits.
So the left hand may not be in front of your bellybutton but it’s “on the line”. Chiburi for Soete Zuki is pathetic if you don’t work that left hand, you’re taking the left hand off the centerline (where it is by this time) to the left hip, which means you are releasing the power. Like a popping balloon, release the stored power explosively. Do this with yoko chiburi, hasso chiburi and jodan chiburi too. All the seitei chiburi should be done well, there are so many of them… they must be important.
Which leaves Shiho giri. What do you do first? Turn square to the first attacker and as he tries to draw, smack him on the hand by driving the side of your hilt down your centerline with your left hand. Right hand is just along for the ride and to make sure you don’t bounce up from the strike.
Turn and draw at the same time. How? Yes you’ve done that. When you thrust to the rear what do you do with your left hand? Yes! Return it strongly to your centerline with the mouth of the scabbard. Return to the first guy who is shaking his hand and cut him down. Left hand? Yes, good!
Turn 90 degrees to the third guy, yes, you’ve done that.
Turn 180 degrees moving through waki gamae. Where do you suppose your left hand should be?
Now you’re getting it. Think through the next two kata.
June 15, 2018